Brick is man’s oldest manufactured building material. In world terms it is over ten thousand years old. The ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt were prolific users of sun-dried clay (adobe) bricks for their buildings, not only for modest dwellings but also for their huge ziggurats and pyramids. They also fired clay bricks to make them stronger and more durable for use in the construction of river walls and hydraulic works. The Bible records that the Tower of Babel was built of burnt clay bricks, as were the walls of the city of Babylon. Both adobe and fired bricks were used in the worlds oldest town, Jericho, dating from the tenth millennium BC. Inexpensive, vermin-proof fireproof, and with excellent insulating properties, adobe bricks are still used today in regions with a dry climate as paving as well as patios. Countless millions are used in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central and South America.”
“In making fired clay bricks, the burning process transforms the natural clay into an inert, semi-vitrified material that will no longer revert to a mud-like state when soaked in water. Fired bricks are more durable than sun-dried ones and, therefore, more versatile in service.
The Romans first introduced brickmaking and brick masonry to Britain. Brick was a principal building material in the Roman Empire and their Legions set up brick and tile factories throughout their colonies. Although Roman buildings were often faced with elegant stone or marble, or with finely finished sand and lime plaster, the structure was frequently of brick masonry. Alternatively the structure was of stone rubble with brick used for bonding courses to provide stability and for the more regularized parts of the construction like quoins and the surrounds and arches to window and door openings.
The Roman Legions withdrew from Britain in AD412 and subsequently all but a very few of their buildings fell into ruin. Interestingly, their bricks have survived long after their buildings and they can be seen reused, centuries later, in Anglo-Saxon and Norman buildings has an Anglo-Saxon tower of rough stone with a large quantity of reused Roman bricks to bond them. The quoins and door and window openings are formed exclusively from Roman bricks. In Hertfordshire, the bricks in the transepts and crossing tower of St Albans Cathedral were taken from the ruins of the nearby Roman town of Verulamium and used by Norman builders in the twelfth century – nearly a thousand years after they were made and first used.
Roman bricks are of different sizes and proportions to medieval and modern ones. They are large, generally square and thin.”
“Following the fall of the Roman Empire, brick-making disappeared in most of Europe. In the medieval period, it spread slowly north again from Italy and Byzantium, where the technology had been kept alive. Regions where good building stone was scarce were generally rich in clay deposits and therefore the reintroduction of brickmaking was very expedient. Strong trading links between northern Europe and the eastern counties of England saw the technology reintroduced into Britain in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
These medieval bricks are of very different proportions to the Roman ones. They are small, oblong blocks, easy to lift in one hand and, with a trowel of mortar in the other, lay to form brickwork. They are sized so that they bond together, overlapping regularly, without having to be cut to fit – so their size and proportions are eminently practical.”
“Immeasurable quantities of bricks like these were used over the next centuries but, initially in England, the new brick was a very prestigious material. It was also expensive and its early use is seen in grand houses, medieval castle-like buildings, built by the rich and influential of the mid-fifteenth century. Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, Herstmonceaux Castle in Sussex and Faulkbourne Hall in Essex are excellent examples.
At first bricks were handmade by itinerant brick-makers, generally setting up brickmaking on the building site to produce bricks for that building only. But brick was quickly accepted as an attractive, durable and versatile building material. It passed from being a select material for the privileged few, to become a staple of British building, and as such it was to grow in popularity over the next centuries.
Until about 1800, all bricks were handmade; not only was the clay placed in moulds by hand, but all the other activities of making involved manpower.”
“Digging the raw material, barrowing it from the clay pit, preparing and mixing it with water for moulding, setting bricks in and drawing them from kilns were all done by hand, because no suitable machinery “existed. In the nineteenth century two significant changes to brickmaking occurred simultaneously – the development of machinery and the discovery of new raw materials.
With the general development of industrialization in the nineteenth century, mechanization was applied to brickmaking. Machinery was introduced for preparing the clay and for forming bricks by moulding, pressing and extrusion. Improvements in kiln design and later the development of continuously burning multi-chamber and tunnel kilns, increased efficiency as did the use of coal, coke breeze and oil as fuels.
Prior to this period, only the shallow lying deposits of alluvial clays and brick earths were accessible for brickmaking, but in the nineteenth century mining for coal and other minerals led to the discovery of different types of clay. Dense shales and fireclays, found in association with coal measures and rock-like marls, proved to be excellent raw materials for brick. They required heavy machinery to pulverize, grind and mix them into a plastic consistency for forming into bricks.”
“The nineteenth century saw the expansion of brickmaking into a highly developed industrial activity, stimulated by a huge demand for “its products by the burgeoning economy of Victorian Britain. Popular demand for bricks and development of brick production processes continued throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
It is significant that no single production technique has been adopted to the exclusion of alternatives. The diversity of clay materials used, and the different techniques for forming bricks and firing them, give rise to differences in appearance and physical properties that are admired and desired. To maintain great variety, many of the techniques associated with early brickmaking, and its intermediate development, still persist within the modern industry. Today Britain is unique in having an industry that manufactures an exceptionally varied range of clay bricks.”